Jennifer Weiner's new book is a bit different from her previous novels. Good in Bed, in particular, is often pigeonholed as chick lit, especially by those who decry novels with male-female relationships that end happily ever after. Goodnight Nobody is more of a mystery, despite the subtitle that declares it "A Novel". But it's a lot more substantial than a "mystery with Mommy as sleuth and social commentator". And I don't mean to disparage Ayelet Waldman's "Mommy Track" mysteries, which I find breezy, insightful, and funny.
But Goodnight Nobody is sharper satire, like something like you would expect of Jodi Picoult's characters if they were living in Judith Warner's Perfect Madness (or perhaps on Desperate Housewives, but I haven't managed to catch an episode of that yet). The stay-at-home moms at the center of Weiner's story have left New York City and their careers to live in safe, upscale Connecticut McMansions, where concern for appearances, social status, and the cult of "The Good Mother" seem to predominate.
Initially, I thought the book was interesting but a bit trite and overdrawn, like David Brook's Bobos. It's fun to recognize your neighbors (or note that your neighbors couldn't be more different) in the first chapter, but how much more can you really say about latte drinking, Pilates practicing, SUV driving, Bugaboo stroller using moms? Some social trend stereotyping is better suited for newspaper columns than full length books. I'm guessing that goes for Maureen Dowd's latest - Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide - too.
As with Weiner's other books, the characters get more complicated and occasionally surprising as the book continues. Weiner reveals a fine understanding of women's friendships, how family relationships can change when offspring enter the picture, the alienation and ambiguity many stay-at-home mothers feel about their circumstances, and how easy it is to prejudge people. Insights into feminism, politics, and conflicts between generations are deftly drawn into the picture.
In the middle of the book, the storyline jumps back and forth between (the main character) Kate's past and present. The backstory describes her relationship with the intriguing (unavailable, then unwilling to commit, shower-attachment-fantasy-hot, blues-lovin') guy next door, and then how she met her (now) perpetually absent husband and came to have three kids under four years old. The time jumps were distracting, but not enough to derail my need to find out how the story ended and what happened to these people. The violence and death that is usually downplayed in "cozy" murder mysteries had a real impact here, and Weiner didn't tie everything up in a nice little bow in the traditional mystery book conclusion. Perhaps that makes this more of a novel and less of a mystery. She did deliver a snarky surprise plot punch at the end, while leaving the characters' future relationships unclear - providing ample room for sequels.